The Gopher King: Chapter 7

Malindra stood dumbfounded for several moments before she headed off after the Viceroy. The lich headed straight for a handful of what appeared to be hobgoblins that had been changed into ghouls. Even at a distance the night hag could identify undead immediately. The Viceroy was similarly inclined. But rather than flee as would any sane and sensible mortal the lich walked with proud purpose towards the lesser undead.

The ghastly hobgoblin rabble began to notice the Viceroy as he approached, and as if of one singularly focused but addled mind they started to come towards him. Malindra was uncertain as to what was happening, and while she was unafraid of the approaching monsters she found the scene mesmerizing. The lich held up his arms as he walked, and as he drew closer to the ghoulish creatures they suddenly stopped and then stood rigidly at attention like well-disciplined soldiers. One by one they fell into formation. The group of undead hobgoblins then followed along with the Viceroy as he continued walking towards the ruined city. Dozens of these foul creatures came at the Viceroy and Malindra with clear intent to attack, but when they drew close enough to the irresistible necromantic energy that fueled and could be harnessed with unequaled ease by the lich the lesser undead became his unquestioning minions. The Viceroy stopped as he entered the partially collapsed city walls and turned to look at Malindra.

“Whoever did this is an unspeakably powerful being.” The Viceroy hissed menacingly. Undead hobgoblins continued to draw towards the lich and when near enough they straightened up and fell into the growing phalanx. The Viceroy continued talking to Malindra, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him. “The residual magic lingers in this city; I can feel it from here. Powerful magic indeed. Somebody brought the entire city down with an enchantment of horrible intensity. I can respect that. But this was not on the list of potential problems you gave me Malindra.”

The night hag marveled at the lich’s unconscious control over the undead that kept gathering but was able to reply to the Viceroy’s insinuation. “I cannot explain this turn of events, your dread lordship. This is not at all how this place looked when last I was here!”

The Viceroy lowered his hands and said, “Then explain in rich fullness how this city appeared when you last saw it.”

Malindra cleared her throat and replied, “It was a large city surrounded by formidable walls. The buildings were somewhat run down because the hobgoblins that had moved in were not as concerned with maintenance as they were with preparing for war. But they were all standing! There were no ruins! And the castle in the center of the city was grand and showed the craftsmanship of human and elf. But now there is no castle but a vast pile of stones!” Her voice belied a level of concern that could easily be pushed into panic were she a mere mortal.

“And where is your sister Colldrenia?” the Viceroy asked. “Buried under all of this someplace, I should guess.”

Malindra walked in stunned silence towards the center of the mostly demolished city to where the castle had once stood. The Viceroy followed along, chuckling evilly. Undead hobgoblins swarmed out from the crumbled remains of the castle and fell into formation as the Viceroy approached. He motioned for them to stand firm, and they did. Meanwhile the night hag knelt on the rubble and let out a loud, piercing wail. It was an unearthly sound, and the Viceroy smiled. The anguish of the night hag brought him the first pang of joy that this adventure afforded.

Furious beyond words, Malindra remained where she knelt for several minutes. The Viceroy wasn’t any good at reading emotions, but he surely understood pain when he saw it. He was drawn to it as a moth to flame. He silently and slowly got closer to Malindra and stood where he could savor the night hag’s misery. Malindra was aware of the lich’s proximity and could feel his energy drawing off her own essence. She turned to look over her shoulder at the lich. “Why do you delight in my suffering, dark king?” she asked through clenched teeth.

The Viceroy chuckled and said, “Enjoyments are infrequent to an immortal. It costs you nothing to indulge me and does you no good to resist.”

Malindra fumed for several minutes and then asked the Viceroy, “Is my sister dead? Who committed this violence upon her, and disrupted our carefully laid plans?”

The Viceroy didn’t answer immediately. Instead he held out his hands to absorb what he could of the lingering traces of negative material energy that wafted through these ruins as the smell of fresh bread in a bakery. “I don’t work for free, crone. If you want my help deciphering these events then you must pay.”

Malindra stood up with surprising speed and wheeled to face the Viceroy. Anger burned in her voice, and the sound of the night hag’s natural, unaltered voice broke through her carefully maintained façade. “How arrogant you are! Can’t you see that the success of my venture is your success as well? You didn’t have to do anything to make the larvae! You have invested nothing but a day of your time into this enterprise! How can you be so single-minded and self-serving?”

Chuckling, the Viceroy replied, “Because I don’t care, Malindra. None of this matters to me. There are infinite opportunities for me to get what I want out of this miserable world. This is but one of them. And as long as I have something you want and need you will have to pay for it.”

Malindra pointed an accusing finger at the lich and fairly bellowed, “I shall make you pay for this someday!”

The Viceroy threw his head back and held his arms out to the sides as he laughed. The sound of it was terrifying, and the sky seemed to darken, and a wind began to pick up out of nowhere. The peals of his laughter rang with an evil so consuming that it seemed to draw away the air itself. Looking with his piercing pinpoints of green light at the night hag, he hollered back at Malindra, “With what will you bring about retribution upon me, mortal? You might live a thousand years or more, but I am outside of time itself!” he stepped closer to Malindra, and even in her rage she unconsciously stepped back from his awful presence. The Viceroy continued laughing cruelly as he continued verbally assailing the night hag. “Will you strip me of my lands? I have none! Will you slaughter my faithful minions? I am alone! There is nothing you can do to strike back at me! Should you so much as lay a finger on me I will rend the flesh from your body and cast your shattered soul into the abyss! Your threats and your fury mean nothing to me, for you are as insignificant to me as a cockroach to a god!” A peal of thunder rang from the darkening sky as clouds began to swirl overhead. Pointing at Malindra the Viceroy roared, “Stand down and mind your place, witch! You are but a bar wench that has hired a king to do a job. I will do no more than I have been paid to do! Understand this and repeat it back to me! I have the power! You just have worms!”

His laughter flared once more, and a heavy rain began to fall. Nothing but the thunder and the laughter of the Viceroy could be heard, and Malindra shivered in the cold downpour and with an emotion she was quite unfamiliar with. Malindra was afraid.

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